ACLU of Arizona Says Proposed Pima County Policy on Outside Employee Activities Violates Free Speech

Affiliate: ACLU of Arizona
January 12, 2009 12:00 am

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PHOENIX – Citing grave free speech concerns, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona today sent a letter to the Pima County Board of Supervisors, urging members to vote against a proposed policy that “chills the First Amendment rights of public employees.”

In a letter sent today, ACLU of Arizona Legal Director Daniel Pochoda outlined ACLU concerns with this proposed revision to Personnel Policy 7-119 Rules of Conduct: “Whether on or off duty, an employee shall conduct himself or herself in a manner that will not bring discredit or embarrassment to the county.”

According to a county memo dated January 13, 2009, the revision was prompted by an incident involving Legal Defender Isabel Garcia, who also serves as a volunteer with Derechos Humanos. The group organized a protest on July 10, 2008 directed at the practices of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Garcia attended the event during non-work hours.

“Adoption of this proposed revision would impermissibly – and apparently intentionally – chill the First Amendment rights of public employees,” wrote Pochoda in the two-page letter to supervisors. “The provision presently contemplated by the Board of Supervisors in response to the protest activities of an employee is a clear example of the need for judicial intervention to protect fundamental First Amendment rights when threatened by a majority legislative body.”

Pochoda also states that the policy is vague and undefined and, if approved, would allow the county to sanction and ultimately fire employees for participating in constitutionally-protected activities, regardless of whether or not they were carried out on the job.

According to the ACLU, the United States Supreme Court has explicitly recognized the right of governmental employees to express themselves on matters of public concern. When, for example, employees act on their own time on topics unrelated to their employment, their expression may only be curtailed by governmental justification “far greater than mere speculation.”

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